For years, the idea seemed unthinkable, absurd. A secret U.S. detention center in a remote corner of Poland, where al-Qaida suspects were brutally interrogated by the CIA? About as likely as "the Loch Ness monster," is how one Pole described it recently.
That monster is now rearing its head.
Cloistered inside government offices, surrounded by classified documents, Polish prosecutors are building a case that could result in criminal charges against the nation's former spy chief and even, some say, against former senior political leaders. Evidence that a foreign power was allowed to conduct illicit activities on Polish soil has deeply shaken many Poles' faith in the United States and in Poland's sense of itself as a successful democracy born from the ashes of the Cold War.
The prosecutors' investigation centers on a Polish military garrison that allegedly hosted a CIA "black site" where foreign detainees were subjected to internationally condemned interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, during 2002 and 2003. The suspects - including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks - had either been arrested or snatched under the United States' "extraordinary rendition" program and questioned abroad to avoid American legal standards for interrogations, prosecutors say.